ESPNU to Kick Off with 3M Subs

ESPN’s college-sports-targeted network, ESPNU, will launch March 4 in front of 3 million subscribers, according to ESPNU executives.

The network -- which will offer live college-sports events from existing ESPN football, basketball and other NCAA sports agreements -- will bow on Adelphia Communications Corp.’s digital-basic tier, as well as DirecTV Inc.’s “Sports Pack” premium-programming tier, according to ESPNU vice president and general manager Burke Magnus.

He added that the network is currently negotiating with other MSOs for digital-basic carriage.

“The response [from operators] has been terrific, and we’re thrilled to have DirecTV and Adelphia on board at launch,” Magnus said. “Our goal is digital basic and to package it in the highest-penetrated digital level that is offered by any operator.”

During its first month on-air, the network will offer 14 live NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament games, more than 25 “Championship Week” basketball-tournament games and NCAA Wrestling Championship and NCAA Hockey Championship coverage.

“There will be more opportunity for the teams to be seen and more opportunities for college-sports fans to tune in and hear analysis and discussion,” Magnus said.

During the summer months, ESPNU will look to devise some “creative” programming stunts featuring games from the previous season. Magnus said the network may devote a full day to replaying a particular school’s or conference’s games.

“We’ll also follow the recruiting game as closely as we can during the summer and try to find live events wherever we can,” he added. “Once we get to August and September, when football starts up again, we’ll be firing on all cylinders.”

Magnus said ESPNU will not siphon events from ESPN or ESPN2, but rather provide additional coverage of high-profile college sports.

“If anything, it’s totally incremental to ESPN and ESPN2,” he added. “College sports is woven into the fabric of ESPN and is one of the most significant categories of what we do, whether it’s number of hours or ratings points."

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.